July 18, 2019 | 74° F

Internet communities breed misogyny


If you go on YouTube and go to the discussion page of a user named Rebecca Watson, you’ll see a series of angry comments going on for about three years. The word “c---” appears 30 times. “B----” appears 31 times. Scrolling down, you’ll see the positive or even neutral comments are few and far between, while comments like, “You’re a piece of garbage. Please never have children, and die alone,” are never ending. That particular comment has more than 30 upvotes, by the way.

So what did Watson do to invite this response from Internet users? Conventional wisdom would suggest she had it coming. But let’s have her words speak for themselves. The following is the offending commentary, in its entirety, that set off this stream of hateful backlash: “So I walked to the elevator, and a man got on the elevator with me and said, ‘don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?’ Just a word to the wise here, guys, don’t do that. I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just lay it out that I was a single woman in a foreign country at 4 a.m. in a hotel elevator with you, just you. And don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me feel uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.”

Four simple words, “guys, don’t do that.” That’s all it took to unleash a huge Internet controversy that would be dubbed “Elevatorgate.” The campaign of hate speech against Watson was ignited by a strange comment by celebrity scientist and orientalist, Richard Dawkins. Dawkins wrote a comment to Watson with the racist title, “Dear Muslima,” in which he mocked the idea that women’s issues in the West should be addressed by arguing that Muslim countries treat women much worse.

Today, the crusade against Watson is championed by Phil Mason, a postdoc who received a Ph.D. in chemistry in the early 1980s. His channel, Thunderf00t, has more than 200,000 subscribers. He released a video on March 15 ridiculing Watson for the elevator incident, almost three years after the fact. In the same video, he says the low representation of women in leadership roles is because the female brain is different from a man’s. On Sept. 25, he released a video in which he argued that if a woman says, “stop,” it’s not really rape if the man continues. He describes this scenario as a gray area in “the transition between rape and just bad sex.” He even compares being a rapist to being a homosexual in order to make the argument that society cannot educate potential rapists to behave differently. These videos are highly popular and many have hundreds of thousands of views.

Mason has put a lot of work into combating feminist anti-rape and anti-sexual harassment campaigns, and the Internet has rewarded him for his efforts. His followers view him as a champion of scientific reasoning and skepticism. Meanwhile, Thunderf00t’s subscribers and others flood women with so much hate speech that many of them disable comments. Mason justifies this hate speech by saying it’s the inevitable backlash that feminists get for being “stupid.” He calls it “censorship” when they block comments and argues that it is because they fear scrutiny. Well, perhaps feminist ideas cannot hold up to the “scrutiny” of angsty teenagers who subscribe to Thunderf00t, but they’ve been fully integrated into academia.

And this brings me to my final point. The reason I discuss this is because these hate campaigns against women do not go on in isolation. The online misogyny directed at women who express their opinions about gender issues is a symptom of deep-seeded misogynistic attitudes in society. Anonymity has granted these men and boys the ability to denigrate women without a social consequence. What’s worse is that the ideas of misogynists like Phil Mason are being passed on to impressionable teenagers. This problem will not simply go away if we ignore it. Contrary to what Mason suggests, it is misogyny, not feminism, which cannot stand up to scrutiny. These ideas about the inferiority of women’s brains are ideas that can only exist in isolated pockets of ignorance. What needs to happen is for people to combat bigotry whenever they see it. It’s easy to leave a comment calling a woman a c--- when the peer environment on the Internet encourages this behavior, but if more people stood up and said this was wrong, some of these teens would reevaluate their behavior and learn some respect, while the older crowd of bitter woman-haters would lose their audience.


John Lisowski is a School of Arts and Sciences fifth-year student majoring in chemistry.

By John Lisowski

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